Now we’re talking: Typeradio.org’s podcast brings the worldwide type family together
I’m a fan of good type and typography, and most every designer I’ve met who is really good and really serious about their craft has the same strange need to see type kerned and leaded in the best way, not just in a way that’s okay to read if you work at it. I’d say that typography, perhaps more than any discipline in the whole of graphic design, proves that things work in certain ways, that there is a craft involved in the process, and there are right ways and wrong ways to achieve perfect type for a given situation.
Typeradio.org’s podcast will not teach you how to set perfect type. It will not teach you how to make your own fonts or get them published. You may even be a little miffed when you first hear hosts Donald Beekman and Liza Enebeis ask their guests inane questions like “Do you hate someone?” and Liza’s “Do you love me?” (that one always gets an awkward pause). There’s a whole round of questions like this, and it can get annoying if you’re a die-hard typophile and want to jump into questions on hinting, foundries and Max Miedinger. Does it matter if Adam Twardoch is religious (he is, by default: he’s Polish, so he must be Catholic–he says so himself)? Why is Sumner Stone‘s favorite drink simple warm water? And why does Erik Spiekermann not remember his last vacation? Do we really care?
If all you care about is type, then no, you probably don’t care what Erik thinks of his vacation. All that’s really important is Meta, the font he designed that gave him some fame. But what the questions do is reveal this group of type designers and type celebrities as a unique collection of interesting people, without pretensions or facades. And they are very interesting. I especially like the questions “Are you rich?”, “Are you famous?” and “Are you important?” (most seem to answer “no”, “no” and “yes”). As designers we use these designers’ typefaces probably every day, and they are a part of our visual culture. But they are quite humble and sometimes even mundane. Stefan Sagmeister is an example: we know his groundbreaking work with AIGA posters and stratosphere-level clients like The Rolling Stones, and he’s one of the most visible designers working today, but hearing him discuss problem clients and other difficulties that beginner freelancers deal with makes him accessible to those beginners who see Stefan’s visibility and fame as unachievable.
Podcasts to catch
I have to say that I think most of the podcasts are really interesting. You can’t go wrong with most of them, but I found these below to be particularly illuminating.
Can you imagine Stefan telling the type crowd that he actually isn’t all that interested in type, and finds selecting typefaces pretty dull? But it’s true, and you’ll hear about it here. Also intriguing is his recent working sabattical, in which he stretched his skills by designing mock CD jackets and booklets in only three or four hours (as opposed to three months). A great example of a top designer still looking for ways to grow and expand.
An excellent type designer speaks very candidly about his old agency Meta and how he was forced out (he doesn’t hate them though, he says), why he created his blog (so lazy students would stop calling him with questions) and how much he sleeps per night (only four hours, 3AMâ€“7AM, because his brain is always working). It’s an amazing look at one of our profession’s more famous members, and when you’re done with all six podcast sessions you’ll feel like you know him.
Some designers out there use type only for their company newsletters and flyers. I’m guessing Verdana and Times New Roman gets used a lot. Others may be more sophisticated, making magazines and advertisements with Trade Gothic, Minion and other higher-tier typefaces. If you’re really good you may be modifying your typefaces and even designing your own. But take a look at Aaron Marcus, who may best be described as a conceptual type designer. Nowadays his true calling is interface and information design, but back in the Seventies he was using pay phones to set up simultaneous conference calls across the United States and thus creating characters using phone signals. Imagine a massive “X” going across the country, which is what Aaron did among other things. It’s almost like installation art or performance art, and it’s a refreshing new way to think about type and, more accurately, mark-making.
Carol is the director of the Type Directors Club, and she’s not a designer or a type designer but she helps makes the type community go ’round with her handling of the Club’s annual exhibition as well as the Club itself. Listen to her speak about her absolute love of typography and the type community and you will love this close-knit community of type designers too! Her sessions will remind you why you can’t get over loving good type.
Like Stefan Sagmeister, Peter Saville is one of those designers who seems to have made graphic design visible to the outside world. His work with album covers in the Seventies and Eighties made design cool for everyone. Peter speaks about this phenomenon quite vividly, and also interesting is near the end when he talks about his new work as a design director (or sorts) for the City of Manchester, England.
Guess the typeface
Cyrus Highsmith and Christian Schwartz play a modified game of “Name That Tune,” with one describing a selected typeface and the other having to guess what it might be. And when I say “describing” I don’t mean describing x-heights or serifs or historical eras. Imagine Christian calling a typeface “hot,” or Cyrus describing a typeface as “an American guy who works really hard, does heavy lifting.” You’ll be surprised how quickly these type designers can pinpoint the one typeface out of millions that the other is talking about! It’s extraordinary. Play along and maybe you’ll guess the typefaces too.
Podcasts to avoid
Some of the sessions just seemed to land flat on their face. You may enjoy them, but I didn’t.
I don’t think this group of dudes talked once about type. Most of their two sessions were spent clowning around and talking about the heavy-metal band they are involved in. I do find that interesting, because they have made the band part of their lecture routine and they’ll tell you why, but I like House Industries’ work a lot and to hear pretty much nothing about it was disappointing.
I’m sure Kai had interesting things to say. But his monotone delivery and choppy thoughts throughout made him hard to follow.
Cyrus graces us with a mumbled rendition of the ABC’s (“…next time won’t you sing with me?”). It’s not worth downloading. But he must have been having an off-day because in the “Guess the typeface” segments he and Christian Schwartz are fun to listen to (see above).
As the title says, if you love good type, subscribe to this podcast. You’ll gain an understanding of some of the world’s greatest type designers, and you’ll never see Meta, Barmeno or The Guardian the same way again.